“Why doesn’t my cat like giving me affection?”
“Why does my cat avoid me?”
“Why does she bite me when I try to pat her”
“Whhhyyy doesn’t she love meeeeee?!”
As a cat behaviourist, I get these questions often in my consultations with clients! And in many cases, it’s due to the guardian ‘forcing’ affection on a cat who just doesn’t want it (at that moment anyway)!
Unfortunately for cats, evolution or their creator simply made them too cute. Especially when they are snoozing on their cat tree, rolled up next to you, or showing their belly to the sliver of sunlight coming through the window.
And because of this ‘too-cuteness’, combined with our inability to resist the temptation of touching this ‘too-cuteness’, cats often get our well-meaning affection forced on them!
For some cats this isn’t much of a problem (though I’m sure they do get annoyed sometimes). Especially those who were handled extensively in their first few months of life. But for many cats, and especially the ones who didn’t get much early-life handling, this forced affection can actually be uncomfortable and a possible detriment to the human-cat bond (hence the avoiding of the owner).
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that you can’t pat your cat – it just means that it needs to be done with rules, on their terms!
Cats seem to have a relatively low sensitivity threshold for patting and affection (compared to say, dogs). Once you hit that threshold limit, it can either result in a quick bite to say ‘stop’ (petting-induced aggression), or the cat getting up and leaving.
It’s important to remember, that just because a cat has come and curled up near you, it doesn’t mean she wants affection. She may just want to be near you without being ‘accosted’!
On the other hand, sometimes cats clearly want some affection. So how do you tell the difference?
With the ‘Consent Test’!
This little trick can tell you very quickly if your cat wants some affection from you. If you’ve read any of Jackson Galaxy’s books, I believe he calls it the ‘Michelangelo’ or the ‘Finger-Nose’. I like to call it the ‘Consent Test’ because that’s exactly what it is.
It’s very simple.
Firstly, I like to use the rule that you only give a cat affection if they approach you. I’ve found that this alone helps strengthen that trust and bond between a cat and guardian. The cat soon realises that they can sit near their guardian without fear of being uncomfortably handled and pat if they don’t want to.
Secondly, when a cat approaches you, simply extend your fingers and put out your hand out towards their nose. Inevitably, the cat will likely sniff your hand.
If they sniff it and show indifference before continuing to walk by, it means they didn’t want affection from you right then. They just came over to check something out and then move on with their life.
However, if they sniff it and then start to rub their face against your hand, or start rubbing against your legs/arms, you know that she’s soliciting some affection from you! Enjoy it! Just don’t push it when she decides when she’s had enough!
“But if I don’t force affection on my cat, I’ll never get any from her!”…
…is something I’m often told when explaining the above to a guardian.
Interestingly, by refraining from non-solicited affection, you build that trust over time and the cat begins to spend more time near you!
Remember, cats show and share affection in many ways. Many cats don’t particularly love being petted (especially without their consent), but instead show affection by simply being near you! If you have a cat like this, it’s far better for your relationship to respect this.
It’s like the old anecdote – a cat will choose the cat-allergic person in a group because they are the ones ignoring the cat instead of trying to ‘love’ him!
Often enough, I see something similar in many households – the cat prefers hanging around the partner who doesn’t force affection on them. Something about the calm energy and the confidence of being near without being annoyed, really appeals to a cat.
For instance, as I’m writing this, I’ve got Max right now curled up and snoozing on my desk next to my left. I could probably get away with a quick rub on his cheek, but any more and he’ll be leaving! Max knows I respect his space, so spends a lot of time near me when I’m writing.
Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely outliers. I’ve seen cats who absolutely thrive on affection and love it when their guardian walks past and acknowledges them with a patting session! But in my experience, I’ve seen a much stronger bond between a guardian and cat when the guardian respects the cat’s space and only gives affection on the cat’s terms and timing.
If you’ve got a cat that somewhat avoids you, stays just out of arm’s reach when lying near you, or even if you suspect you’re ‘accosting’ your cat without their consent (on account of their too-cuteness), it may be worth withholding for a month and seeing how the cat responds. I’ll bet that after she realises that she can be near you without fear of being made uncomfortable, she’ll start spending more time around you!
You can help speed this process up by creating positive associations with your presence. Bonding activities like regular and consistent clicker training sessions, and play sessions can be highly rewarding. And you can also try just randomly calling her over for treats. I often suggest keeping a sealed container of cat treats near the lounge, and when you are sitting down, randomly call her over for a treat. Don’t overdo it, maybe only once or twice a day. But you’ll soon find she will be spending a lot of time around you! Then you can do the consent test, and you’ll probably find she’ll be much more willing to have a cuddle-session with you!
So, respect your cat’s space, give affection on her terms only, and watch your bond strengthen!
Here’s to happy and healthy cats!